Creative Work

Cloudscapes via Volume Vops

It’s an understatement to say that Houdini volumes have a lot of depth, there are just so many possibilities and fun things to explore. After making a few requisite pyroclastic clouds I decided to see what can be done without DOPs. In other words, what kinds of effects can you get without simulation or just converting input geometry? Here’s the first part of an answer – you can use VOPs to create animated volumes and cloudscapes that are surprisingly fast. In these I first filled a volume with a sin wave and then introduced alligator and perlin noises at different frequencies following the sinusoidal surface.

See you, Softimage…

Well, they did it. Autodesk killed Softimage, despite it’s huge potential and growing audience using ICE. Sadly Fabric Engine has disappeared as well. My response? Return to my roots for a while and make fine art glass. A complete change from CGI but a lot of fun! But don’t worry, there will be more CG discussion coming up as I dive into Houdini and explore!



CG Supervisor for 3 Nike Spots

Two of 3 spots. “Evolution” was a small team, 3 weeks, lighting and effects with Softimage and Arnold.

I love small but intense projects like this.

“Run” was primarily Maya/Vray with a touch of ICE. The studio (Royale) is only 6 years old but advancing fast, and it’s been a real pleasure working with them. For their first exploration of ICE, Royale invited in some familiar SI friends – Ciaran Moloney, Steven Caron, Leonard Kotch, Billy Morrison and yours truly doing a first gig start to finish as a CG sup (which with guys like this mostly involved saying “go for it.”)

Like the Psyop “Telstra” spot, this commercial essentially required us to create a system for knitting cloth from massive numbers of strands. Leonard Kotch wrote a system which performs many of the same tasks as the Psyop “Entwiner” tool, but he took a slightly different direction, it was fascinating to compare how the two diverged. The progressive animation required for these two shots resulted in a pretty flexible and broad system, which we are currently using for the last of the three spots, which will wrap in production soon.

strandlayoutb_s40_062613 NikeEvo_shoe_comp_v001 NIKE_evolution_shot40

Royale has been an enthusiastic and fun group to work with and it’s been great getting to show a studio as strong as they are in design some of the possibilities ICE can bring to jobs like this. Expect to see some version of Leonard’s “LKFabric” system gifted to the community before long – very cool Royale, thanks! (They also throw good parties, their 6’th birthday celebration was impressive and… unusual.)



Strands are our friends

And so is Psyop!

This little commercial project from a while back was a LOT of fun. A very small team of us (5 or 6 total, I think) made this (plus a few shots more) in just a few short weeks (two or three I forget) at the LA studio, using a hybrid Maya/Softimage approach which Psyop does really well. All models and animation in maya are brought to Softimage for lighting with Arnold and additional ICE effects – in this case, the characters, and stuffing are entirely strands. No geometry aside from the little plastic eyes and their teeth.

Psyop’s lighting supervisor Jonah Friedman wowed me with the system for knitting via strands he built, and how fast he built it. He also quickly made it on my “favorite people” list in general, it was a blast working with him and the others there. The system, which we called “entwiner” builds layers upon layers of strands… these knit characters are built down to every individual fiber. And Arnold powered right through these millions of strands without a blip. Pretty cool. It was so efficient at it in fact, that it made sense to make the “stuffing” out of tiny fibers too, which gave it a nice volumetric kind of feel when lit.

The liquid is a simple lagoa setup, with wet maps generated in ICE. While the commercial was so simple I was really pleased with how the studio took pains to take their clients ideas and give it the very best. A couple of knit characters could have been faked with geometry and textures, but going that extra mile even when time was so short is what really impressed me, and the combination of maya/softimage, ICE and Arnold is a powerful one, as Psyop shows even on small jobs like this. My kind of studio. Thanks for having me you guys.

The single best post a VFX artist can ever read.

I am a big fan of Polynoid. Ever since their first images of cybernetic snails came out I’ve been hooked on their often-dark blend of art-meets-tech imagery.

Fabian Pross of Polynoid was, for a while, maintaining a very cool blog (come on Fabian, post new stuff!) One post in particular puts into words a critical concept I and many others often try to get across to newer artists – the importance of avoiding simulation where possible.

Simulations usually don’t quite achieve what you want them to, visually. The trap people fall into is to try to force a behavior out of a simulation. You end up making endless iterations while the setup you’re using grows more and more bloated and slow. A single directoral change becomes a nightmare. You lose control and the limitations of your setup starts to dictate the look.

The solution is to create what I think of as “deterministic” solutions – setups which change over time, but in very strict ways you specify. That’s one of the things I was trying to get at with the “post simulation” tutorials, the benefit of offloading much of the look outside of what is simulated.

Even skilled vfx artists fall into this trap with some regularity. I can’t say how many times I’ve seen production scenes which have grown bloated to the point of containing hundreds of forces and collision objects just to try to achieve a simple effect. You can’t afford it. A simple directoral change blows the whole thing apart. Stop. Take a deep breath. Don’t go over that cliff. Simulate judiciously, in small doses, only where you have to.

Simple simulation + deterministic stuff for a complex look = control.

And control is what makes a VFX artist, in my mind. Anyone can pull levers until they get a nice result out of fumeFX. But to achieve brilliant results which are new or spot-on to what is needed in prodution, you have to have control – be it in fumeFX, ICE, Realflow, Houdini or whatever. And one of the best ways to achieve control is to only simulate where you have to, and keep it simple when you do.

Fabian puts this idea into words better in this post. Even if the techniques he uses here are specific to ICE, the underlying message and workflow is the same everywhere – avoid simulation to gain control and speed.


Even when you use simulation, who says that you have to stop there? Bake it and use it as an element you shape further or build on. This concept is really powerful. A good example of this idea in practice is demonstrated by a little DCC-agnostic tool called Sparta. Simulate, then shape the results.